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Pease, Edward Reynolds (1857–1955), secretary of the Fabian Society, was born on 23 December 1857 at Henbury Hill, near Bristol, the eldest son of Thomas Pease (d. 1884), retired wool-comber, and his third wife, Susanna Anne Fry, of the Quaker family of cocoa manufacturers. His father also came from a prominent Quaker family, being a son of the railway promoter and cousin of the more famous Peases of Darlington. Edward Pease was educated at home by two tutors, the latter of whom, Theodore Neild, held progressive views, being a teetotaller and supporter of women's suffrage. Aged seventeen, Pease went to London to work as a clerk in the firm of silk merchants in which his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Hanbury was senior partner. He also became secretary to a debating society at the Friends' Institute, thus, as he said, beginning his habit of becoming secretary of everything he became connected with. He relinquished his job rather than accept a posting to China, but a year later acquired, through Sir Thomas Hanbury, a partnership in a stockbroker's office. Pease never felt at home in the City and when his father died in 1884, leaving him £3000, he left.

Pease was raised as a Quaker but soon entered the realm of Victorian doubt. In London, his cousin Emily Ford took him to spiritualist séances, where he met Frank Podmore, who introduced him to the Society for Psychical Research. Pease became secretary of the haunted-houses committee, but his enthusiasm waned. In 1882 he attended meetings of the Democratic Federation, a socialist group run by the tory Marxist H. M. Hyndman. However, Pease favoured moral reform among the well-off leading to their abdicating wealth, rather than agitation among the workers leading to their seizing wealth. Hence he joined Percival Chubb in forming the Fellowship of the New Life around the wandering scholar Thomas Davidson. The fellowship advocated moral reform of the individual and society. Almost immediately a split developed between those who concentrated on personal regeneration and those who favoured social activism. On 4 January 1884 the latter group, led by Podmore, formed the Fabian Society.

The Fabians, who then numbered about twenty, met on alternate Friday evenings in Pease's lodgings at 17 Osnaburgh Street. They held diverse beliefs, including tory socialism, communal anarchism, and the ethical positivism of Pease and Podmore. For Pease, positivism solved various problems, religious and social, by stressing social duty. His socialism drew also on evangelical morality and biblical allusions, with socialism being defined as a practical economic expression of the injunction to ‘love thy neighbour’. Pease argued that socialism was inevitable, so the main question was whether the upper and middle classes would oppose it, thereby causing bloodshed and confusion, or promote it, thereby ensuring peace and harmony. Hubert Bland, a fellow Fabian, satirized this ethical socialism in ‘Something wrong’ (Weekly Dispatch, 1886), a roman-à-clef in which Pease appears as the hero. Sydney Olivier, Graham Wallas, and Sidney Webb joined the Fabians in the mid-1880s, and although they started out as ethical positivists, they established, with George Bernard Shaw, a distinctive Fabian socialism committed to parliamentary gradualism, efficient administration, taxation, and collectivism.

We should not distinguish too sharply between the spiritualism, Marxism, personal regeneration, and ethical positivism that attracted Pease. London at that time was full of alternative bohemian schemes for the improvement of self and society, all of which looked forward to a time of fulfilment and harmony. William Morris, designer and socialist, occupied a prominent place in this bohemian world. Influenced by Morris, Pease decided, after his father's death, to become a craftsman. He trained as a cabinet-maker, and in 1886, having failed to get work in Morris's firm, joined a furnishing workshop in Newcastle upon Tyne. The workshop was nominally a co-operative, but in practice was privately owned and kept afloat by loans from Pease, amounting to half his capital, that were paid back only years later. While in Newcastle, Pease became engaged to a schoolteacher and Fabian, Mary Gammell (Marjory), the daughter of the Revd George Smyttan Davidson, minister of the parish of Kinfauns near Perth. The couple married in 1889, after Pease returned from a year's tour of the United States with Sidney Webb, and soon afterwards, they moved to Limpsfield on the North Downs, where they had two sons.

Olivier took over as secretary of the Fabian Society while Pease was in Newcastle. But when Pease returned to London, he had difficulty finding work, and the success of the Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) enabled the Fabian Society to take on employed staff. So, in 1889, Pease was appointed as part-time secretary, becoming full-time a year later. Initially he was paid £50 a year and a similar sum nominally as secretary to Sidney Webb but really on Fabian duties. The post was an onerous one. In January 1891 alone he wrote over 600 letters, organized nine lecture courses as well as ordinary meetings, and managed the society's publishing business, including sales of the Essays. Soon after, the society set him up in its first formal office at 276 Strand. The staff still consisted solely of Pease, a typist, and an office boy—only in 1907 was a telephone installed as a labour-saving device. As secretary Pease sided with Sidney Webb, whom he admired greatly, through a series of disputes in the society. During the South African War, the quarrel with H. G. Wells, and debates with guild socialists, he defended the society's commitments to parliamentary politics and collectivism. Even antagonists admired his abilities: Wells observed that Pease ‘did the work of a cabinet minister for the salary of a clerk’ (DNB). Although Pease's principal contribution was administrative, he also updated Thomas Kirkup's History of Socialism (1913), and wrote The Case for Municipal Drink Trade (1904), several Fabian tracts, and various articles and reviews; most importantly, he wrote the official History of the Fabian Society (1916).

The Fabians played a vital role in establishing socialist ideas in Britain. Their role in establishing the Labour Party remains a matter of dispute, though it surely was not as great as they suggested. As secretary Pease acted as the main link between the Fabians and other socialist bodies. He was the society's delegate to the conference that formed the and later its representative on the Labour Party's national executive committee (1900–13). He generally kept to his watching brief—benevolent but with no real involvement save the occasional attempt to promote more socialist policies. In 1916 he persuaded Sidney Webb to become the society's representative on the executive of the Labour Party, thereby bringing the two organizations closer.

In 1913 Pease retired as secretary of the Fabian Society after inheriting a capital sum from his uncle, Joseph Storrs Fry. The parting gift of the society was a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, appropriate, Shaw quipped, since Pease no longer had daily access to Sidney Webb. Pease took over as general secretary again from 1915 to 1918 while his successor, W. Stephen Sanders, was in the army. Otherwise he acted as honorary secretary and kept his seat on the executive committee until the society was reconstructed in 1939, though partial deafness restricted his involvement.

Pease was a shy man with a gruff manner but natural kindness who disliked ceremony. Retirement enabled him to give more time to his pleasures, including gardening and Norse sagas. His wife, a magistrate and local councillor, who stood unsuccessfully as Labour candidate for East Surrey in the 1922 general election, died in 1950. He died at his home, the Pendicle, Limpsfield, on 5 January 1955.

Mark Bevir


E. R. Pease, The history of the Fabian Society (1916) · N. Mackenzie and J. Mackenzie, The first Fabians (1977) · Fabian Journal (March 1955) · B. Webb, Our partnership (1948) · DNB · The Times (7 Jan 1955) · N. Annan, ‘The intellectual aristocracy’, Essays in social history, ed. J. H. Plumb (1955) · R. Greenburg, ‘Pease, Edward Reynolds’, BDMBR, vol. 3 · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1955)


BLPES, corresp. and papers · Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester, corresp. and papers · NRA, priv. coll., ‘Recollections for my sons’, ‘Notes on my life’, ‘Reminiscences of E. R. Pease’, and various letters · Nuffield Oxf., mimeographed ‘Recollections for my sons’ with MS annotations

Wealth at death  

£37,672 10s. 4d.: probate, 4 March 1955, CGPLA Eng. & Wales